Rai­mondo, off­i­cals: Man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs are still crit­i­cal part of state’s econ­omy

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By RUSS OLIVO ro­[email protected]­et­call.com

WOONSOCKET – Robert Rosado ar­rived in Rhode Is­land from Puerto Rico a few years ago with­out a job, few skills and a shaky grasp of the English lan­guage.

Now they call him one of the ris­ing stars of The Brickle Group, where he’s been pro­moted four times since he was hired in 2015 and now works as a ma­te­rial co­or­di­na­tor, help­ing main­tain the flow of wool and other raw goods for ma­chine pro­cess­ing at the tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany on Sin­gle­ton Street.

But Rosado says he feels as if he’s found more than a job at the Brickle’s Boukaert In­dus­trial Tex­tiles di­vi­sion.

“I feel like I’m part of the fam­ily,” he says with a heavy Latino ac­cent. “I love my job... I’m a Span­ish guy.

I speak a lit­tle bit English. I can com­mu­ni­cate a lit­tle bit. But look at me. I can do it. I found my place.”

Rosado came with plenty of mo­ti­va­tion, but Max Brickle, pres­i­dent of the com­pany, cred­its a work­force de­vel­op­ment pro­gram cham­pi­oned by Gov. Gina Rai­mondo with pro­vid­ing the train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion that helped make it pos­si­ble for him to suc­ceed at The Brickle Group. The com­pany led the for­ma­tion of the Phoenix Part­ner­ship – a group of man­u­fac­tur­ers who teamed up with the New Eng­land In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy to pro­vide train­ing for em­ploy­ment prospects who of­ten ar­rive with lit­tle more than a de­sire to work.

Phoenix is one of 33 part­ner­ships in the state that are funded through Rai­mondo’s Real Jobs RI, a pro­gram that re­cently re­ceived an $18 mil­lion re­newal from the Gen­eral Assem­bly to op­er­ate through the end of the fis­cal year. The part­ner­ships cut across all fields of en­deavor, but Phoenix is one of only a hand­ful that are fo­cused on the essen­tials of man­u­fac­tur­ing skills.

In one of sev­eral stops in the city Wed­nes­day – Rai­mondo joined Brickle and his staff, in­clud­ing sev­eral alumni of the Phoenix Part­ner­ship to see how the pro­gram is work­ing. She later toured the cav- ernous tex­tile plant, where var­i­ous di­vi­sions, in­clud­ing North­west Woolen Mills, man­u­fac­tures ev­ery­thing from mil­i­tary berets and pea coats for the Navy to blan­kets for the home­less and yarn for Rawl­ings base­balls – the ones used by Ma­jor League Base­ball.

“It’s ex­cit­ing for me to see it in ac­tion, to meet the peo­ple who’ve been trained, who’ve got­ten raises,” said Rai­mondo. “They love their jobs. The owner of the com­pany says this has en­abled him to get more busi­ness, so that’s good, and work­ers that I talk to like their jobs and they’re mak­ing more money.”

For the sec­ond time, Rai­mondo is fac­ing a chal­lenge in the Novem­ber elec­tion from Cranston Mayor Al­lan Fung, who ques­tions whether pro­grams like Real Jobs RI are worth the cost to tax­pay­ers. But Rai­mondo says it is re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing about 3,500 jobs.

“That’s a lot of Rhode Is­landers who are get­ting good jobs, bet­ter jobs, higher-pay­ing jobs,” the gover­nor said. “This is an in­vest­ment in our peo­ple. I say let’s keep it go­ing.”

Un­em­ploy­ment is cur­rently run­ning at about 4 per­cent, the low­est the state has seen for decades, but the high de­mand for la­bor comes with a down­side for com­pa­nies like the Brickle Group: Just about ev­ery­body who wants a job has one.

The com­pany pays wages that gen­er­ally range be­tween $13 and $16 an hour and of­fers a com­pet­i­tive pack­age of ben­e­fits, but Brickle says re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing em­ploy­ees can be a chal­lenge in the pre­vail­ing cal­cu­lus of la­bor sup­ply and de­mand. Work­ers are not only hard to find – it’s not un­usual for them to jump ship for a po­si­tion else­where – which is par­tic­u­larly frus­trat­ing af­ter the com­pany has made a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment in train­ing.

That’s where the Phoenix Part­ner­ship is mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, says Brickle.

By pro­vid­ing train­ing and ed­u­ca­tion to en­try-level work­ers with few skills, the Brickle Group is hav­ing more suc­cess in pro­mot­ing work­ers more quickly, which makes their jobs more sat­is­fy­ing and in­creases the like­li­hood that they’ll stay on.

“A lot of these peo­ple com­ing in are a clean slate,” said Brickle. “They have no man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Peo­ple who have man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence are al­ready em­ployed.”

Im­mi­grants are an im­por­tant com­po­nent of the work­force, said Brickle, who ad­vo­cates for a more wel­com­ing ap­proach to mak­ing the Amer­i­can work­place ac­ces­si­ble to new­com­ers. “We need im­mi­grants,” he told Rai­mondo.

Brickle said that roughly half the com­pany’s work­force of 110 are alumni of the Phoenix Part­ner­ship and that col­lec­tively, em­ployee re­ten­tion among its mem­bers has risen from 88 to 95 per­cent since the in­cep­tion of the pro­gram.

In ad­di­tion to The Brickle Group, Phoenix in­cludes As­pen Aero­gels and Tekni­cote, both of East Prov­i­dence; Becker Man­u­fac­tur­ing, Coven­try; Vibco Vi­bra­tors of Rich­mond; Ad­mi­ral Pack­ag­ing of Prov­i­dence; ETCO Inc. of War­wick; Town Dock of John­ston; Ede­sia of North Kingstown; Amerisewn of War­wick; Taco Inc., Cranston; North­east Knit­ting of Paw­tucket; and Ci­mini & As­so­ci­ates of Westerly.

One of the fea­tures of Phoenix that Brickle likes most is that it was con­ceived by the Rai­mondo ad­min­is­tra­tion as a bot­tom-up ini­tia­tive, with pro­grams cus­tom-de­signed to meet the de­mands of em­ploy­ers. They drive the cur­ricu­lum at NEIT.

With re­sources from Real Jobs RI, Phoenix re­cruits re­ceive free en­roll­ment in man­u­fac­tur­ing train­ing at NEIT. Half of the re­cruits’ class­room train­ing time is cov­ered as salary. Re­cruits also re­ceive re­im­burse­ment for mileage and day­care,

The pro­gram in­cludes sev­eral lev­els of train­ing on top­ics that in­clude work­place safety, qual­ity con­trol, pro­duc­tiv­ity, prob­lem-solv­ing and team­work.

De­part­ment of La­bor and Train­ing Di­rec­tor Scott Jensen said The Brickle Group has found a unique way to take ad­van­tage of the pro­gram by us­ing it not just as a re­cruit­ing tool, but to ac­cel­er­ate pro­mo­tions for more ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers.

“They built a very smart sys­tem to be able to do that,” Jensen said. “By up­skilling peo­ple who are al­ready work­ing for them and be­ing able to make room at a lower skill level for new em­ploy­ees and mak­ing sure they have the train­ing... When peo­ple come in who have a lit­tle less skill but a great work ethic and a great de­sire to learn, you have the abil­ity to in­te­grate them and skill them up.”

In ad­di­tion to Rosado, Rai­mondo also met two other Brickle work­ers who re­ceived train­ing through Phoenix – Yenifer Jolon, a pro­duc­tion leader, and Amanda Plante, a main­te­nance in­ven­tory as­so­ciate.

“I used to man­age a restau­rant be­fore I came here,” said Plante. “So it was a big change for me. The classes were very help­ful.”

For Rosado, the work­place has turned out to be as much of a learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment as the class­room. He said the help he’s re­ceived from his co-work­ers learn­ing new tasks in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process has in­spired him to try to help oth­ers as they en­ter the train­ing pro­gram.

He’s not even think­ing about look­ing for a job any­where else – Brickle feels like home.

And when he had a chance to tell Rai­mondo how he felt about that yes­ter­day, he had two words.

“Thank you.”

Ernest A. Brown photo

Scar­leth Sanchez, left, and Abi­gail Colon are busy work­ing on berets for the De­fense De­part­ment at H. Brickle and Son in Woonsocket Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

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